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Growing Dianthus Barbatus (Sweet William) and Other Garden Pinks

Sweet Williams have pretty fringed flowers that grow in a cluster on top of a long stalk. Dianthus Barbatus is a lovely variety of the dianthus species.

Dianthus Barbatus – is a tender perennial.  It is often treated as a Biennial with leaves the first year and flowers the second before dying off.

My Dianthus Barbatus has flowered for two years here in NC with ease.

These growing tips will help you to get it going in your garden.

Dianthus Barbatus is also known as Sweet William. It is a tender perennial, often grown as a biennial in most hardiness zones.


Carnations and pinks have a strong fragrance with a spicy scent. Sweet William, however, bears only a mild fragrance, and some varieties have no scent at all.

Planting guide for Dianthus Barbatus

To grow Dianthus Barbatus, follow these tips:

Size and cold hardiness

Dianthus will reach a size of 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide. Be sure to keep this in mind when your are planting. It is a moderate grower and fairly low maintenance

It is cold hardy in zones 3 to 9. No need to dig it up before the cold weather hits.

Sunlight and watering needs for dianthus Barbados

Plant dianthus in a spot that gets part sun to full sin.

Water evenly. The plant doesn’t like to get really dry. 


Dianthus flowers appear in mid summer. The flowers are edible with a mild flavor and can be used as a garnish.

If it is planted from seed after the last frost, it will flower in the second year. If it is planted in flats before the last frost and then transplanted it may flower in the first year.

Propagation of dianthus Barbados

Propagate dianthus Barbados by seed, cuttings, or division. Like many plants grown from seed, the  cultivars will not breed true.

Uses for dianthus

The leaves of this variety of dianthus are fragrant and the plant attracts butterflies and bees.  This lovely variety is one that I got from the farmer’s market.

It has a huge 3 inch flower head and is very different in appearance than the lower growing pinks that are more commonly grown.

Dianthus barbatus Sweet William

Varieties of Dianthus

Dianthus is native to the mountains of Europe and there are over 300 species of the plant. The common names are pinks, Sweet William and carnations.

Generally speaking, pinks grow fairly low to the ground, and bloom profusely. They have an aroma like cloves. Most pinks are grown as perennials.

Sweet William is a biennial, which is sown one year and blooms the next.  Sweet William often self-seeds, though the small baby plants do not always stay true to the parent.

The ground cover pinks usually grow to about 1 foot tall, but Sweet William is an upright specimen that will grow to 24 inches or more.

Here are some more photos of Dianthus with the smaller head size. They give a wonderful idea of the variety of colors available.  

Growing conditions are similar to the directions above, except for the size, of course.  Photos are courtesy of American Meadows.

Dianthus Grenadine MixDianthus Grenadin.  This is the traditional clove scented carnation.  It is hardy and blooms all summer.  Great plant for cut flowers.

Dianthus Purple PicoteeDianthus Purple Picotee. Sweet fragrance all summer long. Nice in containers.

Dianthus Starburst Dianthus Starburst. Short foliage. Perfect for a border or container. 

Dianthus Indian CarpetDianthus Indian Carpet. This mix creates a colorful carpet of unique white, pink, and red that bloom from spring into summer.

Lovely fragrance and perfect for the front of a garden bed.

Dianthus RedDianthus Red –  The height is only 8 inches tall so it’s perfect for containers. 

The plant blooms all summer long. The deep red color is a great contrast to the dark green foliage.

How To Grow Sweet William - Dianthus Barbadus

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Thursday 24th of May 2018

I have these in a huge half barrel in my garden, first year I've bought them, but they're in the barrel with just lamb's ear. So will it come back? I honestly can not remember any of the info from when I purchased. I'm in NC.


Friday 25th of May 2018

Hi Lindsey. I am also in NC. In my experience, the normal Sweet Williams come back year after year and get larger each year. The Dianthus Barbadus (the one with the larger head) does not seem to be as hardy for me. Carol


Monday 14th of August 2017

I bought a SW in spring of 2016 and planted it - neglected it, but for watering, and repotted the whole thing in spring 2017. However, it put out these "buds" that only had a little thred-like stamine but no flower. The thing hasn't put out a real blossom that I would call "sweet" flowers. Is this normal? Thanks JK Sommers


Monday 14th of August 2017

HI JK. I have not had this experience with Sweet Williams. Mine just die back in the fall, but flower again every spring and summer. Carol

Henry Birdwell

Friday 10th of July 2015

Would like to purchase some of these


Friday 10th of July 2015

Hi Henry. There is a link above the third photo to my Affiliate American Meadows. If you click the link and then search for Dianthus, it will show what they have in stock now. I've also seen them at my local farmer's market and also at Lowe's and Home Depot in the spring. Carol

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."